March 31, 2014
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Grade: 73/100

Director: John Ford
Stars: Roddy McDowall, Donald Crisp, Walter Pidgeon

What it's about. The recently published but highly regarded Richard Llewellyn novel becomes a 20th Century Fox prestige picture. A family drama set in a Welsh mining town during the late Victorian era. Donald Crisp is the plain spoken and unwavering father of seven children, six of whom are grown. Crisp is married to Sara Allgood, a housewife who matches him in temperament. Crisp typically refers to her as his "beauty" despite the extra 80 pounds she carries.

The children include ravishing but headstrong daughter Maureen O'Hara and five interchangeable manly-men miners (John Loder, Patric Knowles, Richard Fraser, Evan S. Evans and James Monks), each taller, more handsome, and strapping than the next one. Odd man out is youngest son Huw (Roddy McDowell), an effeminate prepubescent who wears a perpetual deer-in-headlights expression.

Tall and deep-voiced minister Walter Pidgeon takes a particular interest in Crisp's household, likely because O'Hara is infatuated with him, despite an age gap of more than two decades. Future "General Hospital" stalwart Anna Lee shows up to marry one of the five miners, and takes a kindly motherly interest in the ever-innocent Huw.

Other supporting actors include Rhys Williams as a boxer, Barry Fitzgerald as Williams' irascible sidekick, Fitzgerald's brother Arthur Shields as a malevolent church deacon, and Morton Lowry as an abusive teacher put in his place by Williams, undoubtedly to the great pleasure of the audience.

How others will see it. How Green Was My Valley crushed all opposition at the Oscars, winning five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Supporting Actor (Crisp). Sara Allgood had to settle for a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and the film also received nods for its score, editing, sound, and screenplay.

Today, the movie is mostly the answer to the trivia question, "Which film beat out Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, and Suspicion for Best Picture?" At, How Green Is My Valley does have a very high user rating of 7.9 out of 10, and the vote count of 12,638 is highly respectable for a film that predates the U.S. entry into World War II. The user ratings are consistent, but highest among viewers over 45. Women over 45, my favorite demographic, give it an 8.3 out of 10, perhaps because all of the women in the film are noble except for O'Hara's troublemaking housekeeper.

How I felt about it. I have seen this movie several times now, and I have to admit that my opinion of it drops slightly with each viewing. I remain impressed by Arthur C. Miller's black and white cinematography, and his marvelous use of lighting to emphasize what is of importance, and what is not. As always, Donald Crisp is enjoyable, and the Williams-Fitzgerald duo steal the movie when they deliver a comeuppance to that despicable teacher.

That said, the movie has problems, besides a portentous title ripe for parody. How Green Is My Envy is among the gentler parodies; less G-rated versions promptly come to mind.

Most obviously, Huw never seems to get any older, though the parade of events that pass (a lengthy miner's strike, a long convalescence by Huw, O'Hara's failed marriage, Huw's stint at school, two fatal mining accidents, the men leaving home) must encompass, at a minimum, several years. It's like Season 22 of "The Simpsons." When will Maggie stop sucking on a pacifier?

Did Welsh miners really all sing (and with such magnificent voices) while returning home from the mines? Can homely Sara Allgood be the mother of such a handsome brood of children? Does Anna Lee have more than two facial expressions (happy and worried)? Why is the Crisp family a pillar of nobility when the rest of the villagers possess a dark streak? I can understand why Pidgeon has such an interest in O'Hara, but why dote on Huw? And will Huw ever go through puberty?